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One Moment, Please...


Fri, May 29th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

As I indicated shortly after my wife and I purchased the newspaper on February 2, 2009, this is YOUR newspaper.

Last Monday, May 25, I opted to publish a commentary piece at the request of Art Callanan, a resident of Preston and long-time Journal reader. He mailed to me a copy of this recently published article, asking that I check with the American Free Press to determine if we could reprint it in the Fillmore County Journal.

The title of the commentary was "Website offers $25 million for birth certificate, Obama supporters remain disturbingly mum."

By Tuesday, May 26, I had received e-mails from two Journal readers, one in Preston and one in Peterson. One reader told me that I "must do better as a publisher/editor and this community deserves better journalistic content." The other reader suggested that I "research this misinformation and include full clarification under [my] byline in [my] next edition." In both cases, I strongly urged them to write a 'Letter to the Editor' to clarify the points they would like to make. They both declined that offer, with one of them stating "I have no interest in, frankly, wasting my time, dealing with such flim-flam as Shannon's piece."

It has been my experience that commentary sections or opinion pages are the perfect place for lively debate. I consider them the predecessor to online chat rooms and blogs. This is YOUR opportunity to set the record straight, and I encourage you to do so. One reader believes one thing and you believe something else. Offer some enlightenment.

I sensed that these two readers were upset with me, personally, thinking that every item that goes into the newspaper aligns with my belief system and this was reflective of my views. On the contrary, we publish a wide range of content that creates authenticity from all perspectives - and I don't agree with all of them.

I can see how these two readers could assume that this article we reprinted from the American Free Press was presumably part of my political platform. That's often the case with newspapers, and that brings me to my next point. Thanks to these two Journal readers for the segue.

I've been in the media business for over 15 years, and one thing that has continually bothered me is the slant in journalism leaning one direction or the other. And, I've found readers can't stand it either. Isn't the media supposed to be balanced in their coverage?

A thorough study conducted by the Media Research Center indicates otherwise. The 32-page document available at http://www.mrc.org/biasbasics/pdf/BiasBasics.pdf shares statistics demonstrating how journalists have voted over the years.

According to the report, "In 1985, the Los Angeles Times conducted one of the most extensive surveys of journalists in history. Using the same questionnaire they had used to poll the public, the Times polled 2,700 journalists at 621 newspapers across the country. By a two-to-one margin, reporters had a negative view of then-President Ronald Reagan and voted by the same margin for Walter Mondale in 1984. The survey also asked 16 questions involving foreign affairs, social and economic issues. On 15 of 16 questions, the journalists gave answers to the left of those given by the public."

Is this a surprise?

This doesn't surprise me, as I have worked with some predominantly elitist newsroom personalities over the years with very strong political views prevalent in what was supposed to be objective news content. At one mid-sized daily newspaper, where I was asked to step into the editorial department and breach the subject of a disconnect between the newsroom and the community, a long-time journalist asked me if I was trying to tell him how to run the newsroom. Followed by that question, he said, "Do you realize I graduated from Princeton?"

"Good for you! Did you know I had eggs and bacon for breakfast?" OK, that's what I wanted to say. Respectfully, I ignored that comment to avoid a diversion from the real issue at hand - connecting our newspaper with readers.

With his reference to Princeton, he might as well have said, "Oh yeah, well my dad can beat up your dad!" I honestly don't care where somebody went to college. To me, it's what you bring to the table now that matters most; not what your resume boasts. Besides, from my observation, people who tend to frequently name-drop their college credentials often suffer from insecurities. I'd have to say the same about people who tell you they have a high IQ. I assert they would also score high on an "Anti-Social Skills Test."

Getting back to the media business, there has been an elitist mentality among newsrooms across the nation for a long time, thinking they know more than their readers - even talking down to them. And, it's been my experience that the larger the media company, the bigger the egos. A person could probably make that statement about any large companies, quite honestly.

Just because someone doesn't agree with your opinion, doesn't mean they are wrong, right? It's an opinion, and one thing I've found over the years is that it is very, very hard to change opinions. Once established at a young and impressionable age, the foundation is thick.

I think the single greatest challenge that journalists face when covering the news is that they are human. They are supposed to be objective, but studies show that's nearly impossible.

Whether leaning left or right, it is evident that media companies have a problem with presenting news content without somehow interjecting their bias. Fox News, for example, is well-known for their often extreme conservative viewpoint, and everyone knows it. Have you ever been caught off guard by the "500 Club" TV show that suddenly follows one of your favorite regular evening programs? That's another example of the 'right' side of things.

Whatever the political slant, it's reflected in how headlines are written, where stories are placed in the newspaper and how those stories are told. The public is wise to this.

From my perspective, a newspaper commentary section should provoke thought, debate and interesting dinner table conversation. If you agreed with everything you read in our newspaper, wouldn't that be boring?

Where my political views lie, as the publisher of this newspaper, shouldn't be completely obvious in our content presentation. I will always try to maintain an objective stance, however I am human, and I will appreciate your feedback. After all, I didn't graduate from Princeton, but I did have eggs and bacon for breakfast.

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